Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

My Poor Country: Comparing Backgrounds—“Latin Americanisation” or “South Africanisation“?

Posted by on 2009/09/21. Filed under Opinions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

By Qin Hui
Sep 21, 2009 – 3:14:29 AM

In recent years, India and Latin America have been objects of negative comparison frequently mentioned by critics in China and abroad when reflecting on China’s development model. In general, prior to reform, people in China often saw economically backward India in terms of the “evils of taking the capitalist road.” At that time (the 1960s), Latin America was in its era of high economic growth (with so-called “Brazilian” and “Mexican“ miracles), so China did not discuss it too much. After the reforms, particularly with the new round of reforms in the 1990s that aimed to deliver marketisation with a despotic “iron fist,” India was still often used as a negative “example.” It was now, however, seen by China’s “rightists” in terms of the rubric of “Nehru socialism,” a consequences of “Soviet-style planning,” and used as proof of the harmfulness of “populism.”

As for China’s “leftists,” they came increasingly to use the passing of Latin America’s “miracles” and the fall of its societies into crisis as a “lesson” to lambaste the evils of “neoliberalism,” thus producing such hot topics as “beware of Latin Americanisation in China,” “Chinese falling into the trap of Latin America,” etc.

However, some of China’s Latin American researchers do not agree with the “Latin Americanisation” thesis.[1] More interesting is the following: contrary to “neo-liberalism” in the sense of capital holding the advantage over labour, a lot of Chinese-funded enterprises (especially big SOEs) find, on arriving in Latin America, that capital is cruelly “bullied” by the workers and peasants there. Shougang Hierro Peru SAA, the biggest Sinocapitalist enterprise in Latin America flouted local labour laws to suppress strikes and dismiss union members who went on strike, thus creating the “Peruvian workers hero,” Juan Kanchalis, who was first elected to Parliament with support of the workers, then became Peru’s Minister of Labour; his daughter was democratically elected mayor of the city where Shougang Hierro Peru was located. Meanwhile Shougang Hierro Peru was turned upside down by the labour movement, suffering not only economic loss but political notoriety as well, leading our domestic media to exclaim that “overseas investment must safeguard against the union trap!” China’s SOE fat cats can be considered to have learned what the “strength of our workers” means.

There are even more vivid examples than Latin America: in the past China’s SOEs set up factories and opened mines in rural areas, “enclosed and demolished” without explanation, tens of thousands of peasants were expelled as required, with nary a word about negotiation! But the enclosures by “Sinocapital” in Gabon and other countries in recent years—with mines dug even in nature reserves and national parks—have attracted protests from environmental and indigenous rights NGOs “spread by the West.” Sinocapital is accustomed to solving such problems by “fixing” the government. Over there, however, officials just stand idly by despite having been fixed; relying on them to suppress “trouble-makers,” as is done in places like Dingzhou or Shanwei in China, is really hard going. Of course, in states with a comprehensive rule of law, even Sinocapital has learned to “behave.”

Take Chalco, which with strong encouragement reached an agreement with the Australian Government for bauxite development at Aurukun [in Queensland]. However due to the Australian government having returned land ownership to indigenous people, Chalco still had to spend a year and a half negotiating the land lease with the local indigenous people, who number a little over one thousand. Chalco’s “behavior as an equal party” was well received locally, but this “good example” can’t be publicised in China: The overseas “trade union trap” has been enough to give “Sinocapital” headaches; were the “Aurukun experience” to be spread at home, how shocking it would be if China’s peasants with their “five thousand years of civilisation” were to learn, like Australia’s small “primitive tribes,” to make exorbitant demands of a “big crocodile” supported by the Government?!

The big secret of the “China miracle,” we now find, is as follows. Negotiations are unnecessary given the iron hand, so the “transaction costs” spoken of by Chinese economists can be reduced. The dilemmas of “troublesome democratic divisions, a burdensome welfare state, trade unions scaring off investors, and peasant unions driving away land requisitioners” can thus be avoided!

Clearly, with such a state of affairs in China, it’s quite baffling to drag in “Latin Americanisation”. But a Filipino activist in an international NGO who over a 20-year period visited South Africa on many occasions, found that South African cities in those days resembled today’s Beijing, while today they resemble Manila! This comparison is interesting.

[1] Jiang Shixue, “‘Lameihua’ shi wei mingti” [Latin Americanisation is a false proposition], Ladingmei yanjiu [Latin American Studies] Issue no. 1, 2005.

Translated by David Kelly
China Research Centre
University of Technology Sydney

comments powered by Disqus